The North Face Summit L6 Down Belay Parka
It's way more jacket than most of us need, but if you're after a duvet for somewhere seriously cold then the Down Belay Parka would be a decent choice, says Dan Bailey
The relatively small, Derbyshire-based company that now owns 'Rab' and a few other outdoor 'brands' has done a good job of bringing Carrington's work through into the modern era. As usual when holding a Rab garment, my first impressions were that the design and construction of the Infinity looked high quality.
A squeeze suggested the down was top notch and a Pertex swing tag revealed the face fabric is Pertex Quantum GL 10 dernier fabric. Pertex are of course renowned as quality face fabric experts, and this is their lightest incarnation yet. I've got various jackets made from it - single sheet windstoppers, synthetic filled, down filled. I've always found it impressively strong, considering you can see through it in the lighter shades. Yes, there is the odd bit of duct tape detailing on some of them but I had to be quite careless to achieve the tears.
A look on the Rab website revealed the Infinity's filling is the highest quality down that Rab currently use - 850+ US rated down from eastern European geese. I stuffed the Infinity into its impressively tiny stuff sack (see photo below). It went in easily. I pulled it out again, and it quickly re-lofted into sumptuous bulging baffles.
I've now had the Infinity for two winters. I've got a lot of down jackets but I definitely reach for this one the most. The best thing about the Infinity is its warmth to weight ratio - I've found it ideal for most days out in the UK and the Alps from Autumn through to Spring. It compresses small enough to chuck in even if you'll only need it for brief rest stops, mountain tops and emergencies. However, thanks to the high quality down, relatively short cut and minimalistic design it puffs to surprisingly reassuring proportions when needed.
If it's particularly cold, windy, or I'm likely to be stopping for a long time in the shade eg belaying, then it's not warm enough for me, especially as it doesn't offer any Velcro or drawstring defences against the elements.
I would call the Infinity a 'lightweight' down jacket - it has an average weight of 425g in women's and 500g in men's. There are obvious advantages to lighter weight gear, but it's actually hard to quantify what 'lightweight' is. As a result the word is used in a wide range of outdoor product descriptions and can be misleading.
Things are further confused by the new breed of 'ultra' or 'super' lightweight mountain clothing and the broadening range of weights of down jacket available. To qualify, personally I'd roughly call a 200-350g down jacket 'super lightweight', a 4-500g jacket 'lightweight', a 550-650g down jacket 'midweight', and above this come the heavyweight and expedition down jackets.
Rab actually call the Infinity a 'super lightweight' down jacket. I asked them about this, and apparently that's because of its impressive warmth to weight ratio. So it's super lightweight - for its weight. I see where they are coming from but it further confirms what a minefield 'lightweight' gear is!
More info here on the Rab Website
Continuing the lightweight theme, the Infinity has a narrow band of elastic at the wrists rather than Velcro tabs. This is ideal for those with bigger wrists but not so good for the skinny. Wind and snow gets in when I take my gloves off to wrestle with ski skins in the wind. Likewise, the hood is a simple affair with just a bit of elastic around the edge keeping it on. I've lamented the fact that it doesn't have any drawcords to peg it down with on a few occasions. I would definitely be happy to add extra grams to this jacket for a simple drawcord system around the front.
The only other features are two handwarmer pockets, pleasantly soft inside; a small interior pocket big enough for keys and sunglasses but not big enough for a map or goggles; and a little soft flap over the zip end to stop your chin getting rubbed.
Appearance-wise, my Infinity has received mixed reactions. It's proved most popular amongst women, especially blonde, blue-eyed ones. Several have actually stopped me to comment on the 'lovely' 'unusual' bright colour and shiny face fabric and ask where I bought it. Some men (all British ones actually) have been a bit repelled by the in-your-face colour and sweet wrapper shiny Pertex face fabric. One actually congratulated me that it had faded quite a lot since I got it a year ago! The women's Infinity also comes in a similarly bright pink colour and a more subtle dark brown.
My favourite down jacket with what I think is an ideal warmth to weight ratio, and minimal features but all the ones I want from a down jacket. Any quibbles I have with it are small. It's worth mentioning that Rab now make an Infinity Endurance Jacket (unfortunately just for men at the minute, RRP £245). This deals with most of the minor issues I had with the Infinity - it has a longer length and the new one for AW13 will have a helmet compatible hood too.
See this product at the Ellis Brigham shop
See this product at the Joe Brown - Snowdonia shop